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I'm having trouble understanding this paragraph, mostly the part in bold. Is it regular grammar?

This is a piece from Moby Dick:

If I had been downright honest with myself, I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea."

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Fancy" means to like it - "but half fancy" means to not like it much at all. So he is saying that he did not admit to himself that he did not want to commit to the voyage before seeing the Captain.

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Is it correct that the "I did but" construct = "I only, merely"? –  ftkg Feb 11 at 0:57
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close, but I think "I did not" is closer. I think the closer to 'not fancy at all' you get, the better for this sentence. He clearly seems to be making a point of his bad decision! –  Oldcat Feb 11 at 1:01
    
I think "I only, merely" is much closer to the meaning of "I did but" in general (see e.g. uses in the King James Bible). In this case, however, it is perhaps being used as an understatement: by saying that he only half-fancied it, he is saying that he didn't actually fancy it. –  Niel de Beaudrap Feb 11 at 2:53
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As was mentioned by Oldcat, "half fancy" means to not be excited about traveling. replace half with hardly and it makes a little more (modern) sense.

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It means he wasn't very keen on doing it. He wasn't too enthusiastic about committing himself to such a long journey.

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